In the spring of 1903 Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary, offered Herzl the Guas Ngishu plateau near Nairobi in East Africa – not Uganda, as Chamberlain and others later erroneously called it – for a Jewish settlement under the British flag. Herzl thought it politically imprudent to reject it, since the very fact that a Great Power was negotiating with him amounted to a de facto recognition of his movement. He considered the offer primarily in political terms. Rather than being an impediment, it might bring the realization of his ultimate goal nearer. For him it was merely a ploy to obtain British recognition of the Zionist movement, recognition of Jews as a people, and to bring Britain gradually to the conclusion that only in Palestine would the Jewish Problem be solved. In these tactics he was eminently successful. At no time did Herzl abandon Palestine.
The storm that erupted during the Sixth Zionist Congress in August 1903 was unforeseen. The acrimonious controversy was largely due to a misunderstanding. It was not the choice between "Zion or Uganda" that had been put on the agenda. What had been proposed was the dispatch of a Commission of Inquiry to East Africa, and Herzl anticipated that the report would be negative, as it was crystal clear to him that the Jews would not go to Africa in any case.
Moreover, all the controversy was irrelevant, because the subject matter became unreal. In view of the protests raised by the white settlers in Kenya against the very idea of a Jewish settlement, the Foreign Office changed its mind. Herzl did not shed any tears. In a circular letter to the members of the Zionist Executive, he declared that the East Africa project was dead. In mid-April 1904, during a meeting of the Executive, the leading opponents, the Neinsagers, admitted that they were mistaken and expressed their unswerving confidence in Herzl.
For a fuller treatment see *Herzl, Theodor.
R.G. Weisbord, African Zion: The Attempt to Establish a Jewish Colony in the East African Protectorate, 1903–1905 (1968); The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, ed. R. Patai, tr. M. Zohn (1960); O.K. Rabinowicz, Herzl and England (1951); A. Bein, Theodor Herzl: A Biography (1962); M. Heymann, The Uganda Controversy, 2 vols. (1970); I. Friedman, "Herzl and the Uganda Controversy," in: R. Robbertson and E. Timms (eds.), Theodor Herzl and the Origins of Zionism (Austrian Studies 8) (1997), 39–53; also in Heb. in: Iyyunim, 4 (Annual 1994), 175–203.
[Isaiah Friedman (2nd ed.)]